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Does hooliganism need to be tempered?

There’s a saying that you may have heard of before.

‘There’s always one bad egg’.

Whilst for the most part, this is true, it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept it and move on.

When it comes to football fans, the saying remains relevant. Every club will have those that don’t care for crossing the line between friendly rivalry and genuine hate for one another.

We don’t even need to look at seasons gone by to find examples of when this occurs.

Aston Villa and Birmingham City are fierce rivals and this season, they faced off against each other in two West Midlands derbies in the English second division.

Villa claimed bragging rights in both contests, running out 4-2 winners at home in November and 1-0 winners at St. Andrews in March.

But the second match brought about one of the most disgusting acts we have ever seen on a football field.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, with his back turned, was attacked by a Birmingham fan and copped a wild right haymaker that sent him crashing to the floor.

Fortunately, not only was Grealish unharmed by the attack, but he didn’t get up and try to exact revenge on the fan. The incident was quickly brought to a halt when Villa players and ground stewards stepped in and restrained him.

Grealish had the last laugh, scoring the winner and seeing his side home as victors. But it was a dark day for football, showcasing that some idiots that we thought were a thing of the past had slipped through the cracks.

Two more recent instances took place in the Champions League semi finals. After Ajax’s 1-0 win against Tottenham, some Spurs fans were seen throwing punches and beer bottles at Ajax fans in the middle of a London street.

Similarly, a few thousand kilometres west in beautiful Barcelona, some locals were attacked by Liverpool fans who, inexplicably, began dumping them into a nearby fountain.

Perhaps the most disgusting act of hooliganism seen this season was from the Southampton vs Cardiff City fixture earlier this year.

The match took place very soon after the extremely tragic death of Cardiff City signing Emiliano Sala, who died on a plane flight to Cardiff from former club, Nantes in France.

Sala’s death brought the football world together in mourning but for some, it was merely a chance to tear it open again.

In this video, a Southampton fan can be seen making plane gestures to the travelling Cardiff fans, a deplorable act which was met with much criticism online. Southampton have vowed to ban the fans who made these gestures.

Now, there’s no problem with being passionate about your soccer club. There’s also no problem with having fun on an away trip. But it’s these moments when people seem to just want to create problems and when that happens, it’s not good for anyone.

Granted, these hooligans don’t represent their club’s entire fanbase, but they do represent their club. These Liverpool fans can be seen laughing and mocking the local people of Barcelona and whilst they may feel they’ve done nothing wrong, they’re contributing to the image that their club has across the globe.

This isn’t solely aimed at these Liverpool fans either. Other clubs certainly do it and the same thing occurs to them.

Hooliganism can positively contribute to the soccer image across the globe. When done right.

There will always be one, two or maybe more who feel the need to commit such condemnable acts. But if clubs can start taking more serious action against these people, like Southampton did, it will demotivate those thinking of doing something similar.

It will show the club in a more positive light, show that they don’t stand for such acts and in general, it will allow hooliganism to adapt to the now and become, again, a more positive influence on soccer society.

All good things take time. But the more times we see such incidents, the more we wish we could hit the fast forward button into a time when these acts occur less.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

K-League’s beneficial partnership with La Liga: A blueprint for the A-League?

Late last year, the Korean K-League and Spain’s La Liga signed an MOU to advance the collaboration and communication between both leagues and mutually grow their competitions.

At the time of the announcement of the three-year partnership, matters that the two leagues were set to focus on included the development of sport projects, different training programs, addressing anti-piracy issues and creating an economic control mechanism for the K-League and its clubs.

Since last December, the leagues have conducted a wide range of joint workshops and campaigns on these different agenda items.

For example, La Liga has offered multiple training sessions to coaches and K-League staff based on the experience of the La Liga Sports Projects team in their initiatives across the globe. These sessions are held virtually (with a scope to return to face-to-face if COVID allows) with Spanish clubs such as Valencia CF and Elche participating in them, and is set to continue deep into the 2021/22 season.

Similarly to what has been done with coaching education, both leagues have held virtual training conferences on financial control to ensure the viability and long term growth of the K-League and its teams. Using an offline format, a mechanism which has allowed La Liga clubs to reduce their debt from €650 million in 2013 to €23 million in 2020 will also be explained this coming season.

A prominent area which the two leagues looked to address in the initial months of the agreement was the fight against audio-visual piracy. The K-League have launched the “Protect K-League” campaign and alongside the technological advancements developed by La Liga’s anti-piracy branch, this seems to be a high priority for the two competitions.

The eSports field will also be targeted in the coming months, with the K-League and La Liga to carry out joint projects and activations. Both countries have seen the importance of the gaming world and have grown significantly in this sector in recent years.

Yeon Sang Cho, general secretary of the K-League, spoke about the advantages of the arrangement with La Liga.

“Since the signing of the agreement last December we have seen how our relationship with La Liga has gone from strength to strength and how we have worked together to overcome such a difficult situation,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“We are impressed with La Liga’s commitment.

“Thanks to it we have been able to adapt to the limitations imposed by the pandemic; carry out virtual training meetings for K-League coaches and their clubs; and also an in-depth analysis of economic control mechanisms, which are key to creating a sustainable professional football industry. Here at the K-League we are very happy with the progress of the relationship and we look forward to a future where these ties become even stronger.”

Sangwon Seo, La Liga’s delegate in South Korea, spoke of the early success of the partnership.

“For us at La Liga it is a great source of pride to be able to count on such an important ally as the K-League and to share our knowledge and experience with them,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“These first months since the MOU was signed have been very productive and we have experienced a very enriching exchange of knowledge that has allowed us to move forward despite the global pandemic.

“At La Liga we face this season with great enthusiasm, and a desire to deepen our relationship with the K League and to bring our joint projects to fruition.”

It’s a great move for the K-League to improve their operations through help from one of the world’s top leagues, something which the A-League should envy.

Because of initiatives like this they are setting their clubs up financially for the long-term future and accessing training methods that are of a world class standard.

The A-League should be looking at this example of the collaboration between these two leagues if they want to become a more prominent competition in Asia.

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

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